The Time Monster
The Mind Robber
|Dates||Sept. 14, 1968 -
Oct. 12, 1968
With Patrick Troughton, Frazier Hines, Wendy Padbury.
Written by Peter Ling. Script-edited by Derrick Sherwin.
Directed by David Maloney. Produced by Peter Bryant.
|Synopsis: The Doctor and crew escape from the planet Dulcis by slipping into the realm of the imagination, and become vulnerable to the terrors within.|
A Review by Kevin Guhl 19/1/97
Am I dreaming? Or does this The Mind Robber video possess a strange sense of humour? Neither, for this Troughton era gem is a classic journey into weirdness!
Most Doctor Who is fairly serious, but this rare case takes us on a journey of fantasy and laughter. The Doctor is forced to land his TARDIS outside space and time, leading into a Twilight Zone-style opening episode. Very surreal, this stuff, and still suspenseful decades after it was made. Then the TARDIS crew are led into the Land of Fiction, where a maze of challenges and fictional characters await!
While cobbled together on Who's relatively small budget, Mind Robber is expansive! The misty sets are a perfect dreamscape, while the land's inhabitants (especially Gulliver) are entertaining and used nicely in the story. The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe are in rare form, with their humorous interplay fully exposed (Jamie's incompetant facelift by the Doctor is priceless!).
In short, Mind Robber fulfills it's purpose: Imagination. The above elements and original idea of a "writer's domain" make for a fun trip. And the fluctuation of permanence in this land remind us of actual dreams, where ideas can twist and blend into very different settings. Light and engaging ecstacy!
A Review by David Masters 18/7/97
In his role as writer and producer, I am an admirer of Derrick Sherwin. The Invasion, The War Games and Spearhead from Space are three of my favourite stories. As a script editor, however, Sherwin seems to me less of a success with The Mind Robber very much taking the role as the exception that proves the rule (I appreciate that I am ignoring the early work which Sherwin was credited with such as The Web of Fear). Whilst most of Troughton's latter stories are pretty much forgettable, with scripts often worse than the visual effects, The Mind Robber is one of a few stories from this time to be worthy of our attentions.
The best part for me of Mind Robber is actually the part that Sherwin contributed the most to -- the first episode. Throughout the show's early years there were a myriad of classic episodes that centred almost entirely around the main characters: An Unearthly Child, The Daleks, even the first part of The Space Museum! The Mind Robber is another example, and whilst the remainder of the story is good it rarely recaptures the dramatically surreal brilliance of episode one. Whilst Peter Ling's work is often very good -- the use of Gulliver's dialogue, the forest of letters, etc., it often cuts a fine line between clever and silly -- the Karkus, Rapunzel, the final battle between the fictional characters. Another of my favorite bits -- the "other Jamie" also owes less to Ling and more to chance (since Fraser Hines had chickenpox).
The acting is pretty good -- director Maloney always seemed to get good performances and proved to have a knack of good casting. Like Maloney, Bernard Horsfall makes an excellent debut (as Gulliver). Horsfall would return to Doctor Who three times - always in stories directed by Maloney, and guest star Emrys Jones proves a palatable Master of the Land of Fiction.
So why did the remainder of Sherwin's tenure as script editor see such variable output? One important factor that always comes over in everything I read about this period behind-the-scenes is the amount of other work that Sherwin was also involved in around the preparation for and execution of Troughton's last season (other writing and TV projects in the main). Good job, then, that The Mind Robber managed seemed to get Sherwin's full attention.
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 5/10/98
The Mind Robber is best compared to The Celestial Toymaker: both are based on fantasy. For it`s time, it was a visually astounding story, particularly in the first episode set largely in a white void, (something that Tom Baker`s Warriors` Gate would use again in 1980).
The first episode is also noteworthy, in that it features only the three regulars and the White Robots. The TARDIS crew are really played to their strengths here, (just watch Patrick Troughton as the increasingly frustrated Doctor in both the opening and closing episodes for proof of this). It also plays on the emotions of Jamie and Zoe by tempting them outside the TARDIS; a clever plot device, rarely used to this degree. The White Robots are especially effective here; perhaps this has something to do with the fact that the TARDIS crew are isolated and virtually defenceless, more so than in the rest of the story.
Everything comes across as excellent, from the superbly designed Master-Brain computer, to the characterisation, to the cliffhangers: the TARDIS being "destroyed" is just one example. The acting is something else that shines, with Emrys James as The Master Of The Land Of Fiction getting plaudits here for managing to portray a confused and manipulated old man, and perhaps surprisingly the schoolchildren, who taunting The Doctor come across effectively. Only Hamish Wilson is less than convincing, his accent doesn`t seem right....
Overall, this is an excellent, if untypical, Troughton tale and is excellent Doctor Who.
A Review by Leo Vance 23/11/98
This story is very good. Amazingly good considering it has an episode tagged onto the front.
The cast are almost unanimously good. Patrick Troughton and Bernard Horsfall are the best, with The Master of the Land of Fiction being just as good. Wendy Padbury and Frazer Hines are as good as ever, as are the children.
On the monsters side, the Unicorn is competently shown, Medusa is well done, as are the Clockwork Soldiers, but at the best are the White Robots, superb enemies.
If the sets aren't some of the best in 1960's Doctor Who then I must be blind. The special effects are competent, the costumes are all good and the direction really couldn't be better.
The script is what shines though. Some of the puns are hilarious, the jokes are all good, and particularly effective is the dialogue between the Doctor and the Master of the Land. The idea of Jamie and Zoe being squashed in a book is good, and the Karkus is a clever idea too. The Blackbeard the Pirate/Sir Lancelot/Cyrano de Bergerac stuff is great as well.
The Mind Robber is the only complete Troughton (barring The War Games) to rival Tomb of the Cybermen, and a lot of its appeal is in simply being a great story. 9/10
The Mind Throbber by Guy Thompson 28/11/98
The Mind Robber is an unusual Troughton adventure. Not only is it one of the few to have survived the archive clearance of the 1970s, but it's also one of only two Troughton stories that I would consider to be in any way groundbreaking for the time (the other one being The War Games). The only speaking characters in the first episode are the three regulars, as the TARDIS is forced to make an emergency take-off to the avoid the volcano on Dulkis (that occurred at the end of The Dominators). While this installment is well-performed, and quite spooky in the sequence where Jamie and Zoe are... well, are they hypnotized by the White Robots? It's a bit unclear really.
Things then begin to hot up when the TARDIS is apparently destroyed (again, why does this happen, and why does it so conveniently reassemble itself at the end?) and the travellers find themselves in an unknown place inhabited by fictional characters and the Master (no, not The Master, another one). The Master is in fact a huge computer which has taken over the mind of a 1920s English writer (the hows and the whys are overlooked), who is coming to the end of his life, and so the computer wants the Doctor to take his place to assist him in a conquest of humanity.
From beginning to end, plotwise, The Mind Robber is a bit of a mess, although it puts an extremely brave face on it. Of course, it's all just supposed to be a bit of fun, which it is, but so much is left unexplained that you wonder whether this story was made up as it went along (indeed, the section where Jamie's face is altered was written in at the last minute when Frazer Hines was taken ill, the alternative Jamie was played by his cousin, Hamish Wilson). The acting is of a decent standard all round (for the Troughton era, although I'll gloss over the fight scene between Zoe and the Karkus), and the special effects are not completely terrible (the Medusa effect is even quite good).
It's a shame the Target novelisations were limited to 144 pages, as this is a tale that had great potential to be expanded on in book form, to create more interesting scenarios and a land of fiction much greater in scope than some of the obvious filling material that appeared on TV (most of episodes 1, 2 and 3). An interesting story then, and one that inspired several of the New Adventure novels, which can only be a good thing. But who built the computer, hmm?
The Ebay Batch Part Two by Robert Thomas 16/3/01
Funnily enough part two comes directly after part one.
Words cannot say how good this story is, utter perfection. Full of marvolous moments, good effects and good performances by all of the cast.
In my honest opinion part 1 is one of the best, if not the best episode in the history of the programme.
This was one of the earliest stories that I watched when I became a Who fan, and it was a fantastic glimpse of an early era. To those experienced fans the fact that the villian is refered to as 'you know who' threw me and led to a bit of confusion on my part.
I like the myth which has developed that the robots and soldiers are Zoe and Jamie's mental images of the cybermen. This story is both dark and funny, all the regulars on form, with the guest cast (special mention to Bernard Horsfall) putting on good performances.
In short perfect, and I love it.
Stranger than... by Andrew Wixon 4/10/01
It goes almost without saying that The Mind Robber is a very weird Doctor Who story, and a very weird story full stop. It has a very weird opening episode, three weird episodes in the middle and a fairly weird episode at the end. The supporting cast, monsters, and villain are all pretty weird too. But the most massively weird thing about The Mind Robber is that it works as well as it does.
Most of this is due to Patrick Troughton's astonishing lead performance throughout, effortlessly managing to be wily and scared and thoughtful and delighted from moment to moment s the script dictates. He steals every one of the five (very short) episodes. The only other actors who even show up on the radar are Bernard Horsfall as Gulliver and Emrys Jones as the (other) Master.
Looking at the episodes in order, part one deserves to be singled out. For its' economy and sheer strangeness it compares obviously with Edge of Destruction, but this time round the conceit works - there's a genuine menace to the white void the TARDIS lands in (the void itself is rather more convincingly created than the one in Warrior's Gate). In a way it's a pity this wasn't extended into a story of its own, as it has very little to do with the rest of the plot. But as padding, it's riveting stuff. The next three episodes are equally watchable despite the fact that there's virtually no plot development at all, just the travellers wandering from one weird encounter to another. The substitution of Hamish Wilson for Frazer Hines is a brilliant bit of improvisation that only contributes to the surreal atmosphere of the story.
As in the preceding story, all the plot seems to have been left for the conclusion and once again it makes for a zinging last episode. The duel between the Doctor and the (other) Master is hugely enjoyable. The only real flaws in the story are in this bit, though - the invasion of Earth idea just seems imposed onto the story while the end is rather too abrupt and doesn't provide enough closure.
This is, though, a unique piece of Doctor Who. Only in Troughton's child- and fantasy-oriented period could a story as offbeat as this have succeeded so well. Undoubtedly one of the second Doctor's finest hours.
Surreal and spectacular by Tim Roll-Pickering 23/1/02
Right from the start of Episode 1 this story is fast moving and the pace rarely lets up. The Mind Robber is one of the most bizarre stories ever seen in Doctor Who, exploring both traditional literature and far out psychedelic images that were common place throughout the 1960s.
The scenes set in the void are truly threatening even though the TARDIS is truly nowhere. The series is often at its best when strong writing has to be relied on to carry an episode rather than visual effects The White Robots are mysterious and never fully explained, although reusing costumes from another BBC production (Out of the Unknown) makes perfect sense here. The end of Episode 1 is truly spectacular since just when it seems as though everything is safe the TARDIS goes and explodes, generating a surreal and memorable cliffhanger.
Once in the Land of Fiction itself the story remains mysterious, presenting a succession of confusing images from Jamie's face changing to Zoe being trapped in a jar to the toy soldiers. The conflict between the Master and the Doctor is clear even at this stage and but at the same time the series acknowledges some of its roots and embarks on a crossover with myths, books, comic strips and other programmes that could never be expected. Although the limited production values of the time limit some of the effects they are still strong, especially the unicorn or Medusa. This is a story that never lets up.
Hamish Wilson is perhaps the most overlooked and briefest companion of all, playing Jamie for the equivalent of a single episode, but he nevertheless puts in a strong performance although he never manages to match Hines. All three of the regulars are on top form in this story, especially Troughton who gets both a physical fight with the Karkus and a very strong battle of wits with the villain in the same story. Although the origins of the Master Brain are never explained, it doesn't seem to matter in this story since Peter Ling and Derick Sherwin's scripts and David Maloney's direction combine well to propel this story forwards. It demonstrates just how much flexibility there is in the series' format and gives a strong story at the same time. 9/10
A Review by Terrence Keenan 12/12/02
I think it's safe to say that The Mind Robber is the quintessential oddball DW story.
In a story where you have Gulliver and Rapunzel as supporting characters, where the great danger is in becoming fictionalized, oddball is an understatement.
The question is this: is it a good story?
The first episode features only the TARDIS crew and some weird looking white robots that are obviously low budget lash-ups. As the story moves along, we are witness to painfully contrived sets and stilted acting by fictional characters. And for this story, it works. Serendipity? Definitely.
How do you really sell such a story? Through the regulars. And the TARDIS crew are all on top form. My personal fave moment is when Wendy Padbury gives the Karkus a whooping. It always bring a smile to my face. I also love the interaction of Padbury and Frazier Hines in episode one. Troughton is, as usual, his brilliant self.
I don't have much else to say. I like The Mind Robber a lot. Check it out for yourself.
A Review by Brian May 4/12/03
As a long time fan, there are fewer Who pleasures I can think of than sitting down to watch The Mind Robber. It's a wonderful, quite literally fantastic tale, that is constantly engaging, eminently re-watchable and lots of fun!
It's one of the strangest Doctor Who adventures so far - which is not intended to be a criticism. Rather, it stands out because of this. Season three's The Celestial Toymaker was the programme's first foray into pure fantasy - but at least in that story we know who the enemy is from the beginning. Here the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe are up against an unseen foe for the first four episodes - all they know is that he is called the Master. The audience is privy to a little more information - we see the inside of his control room and the back of his head. But that's about all we know until the end of part four - in the meantime it's one pretty weird, but very enjoyable, ride!
The first part is the probably the best, which is strange owing to the fact that it's tacked on to fill up an extra episode, written by the script editor. Upon watching, you can tell the difference, as the travellers don't arrive in the Land of Fiction proper until episode two, but in actual fact it blends in pretty well with Peter Ling's script. It's the most edgy of the five episodes. The base under siege story that dominated the last season is replaced with the TARDIS under siege scenario - not new to Doctor Who, as evidenced in Inside the Spaceship - with the TARDIS, the ultimate bastion of safety, coming under attack. I believe this story poses more of a real threat than the Hartnell one, as we know there is something - some sentient force - outside the walls.
This makes for some incredibly tense moments, including the attempts by the unseen entity to lure Jamie and Zoe outside. I love the shot of the scanner after Zoe leaves the TARDIS - it had been transmitting the image of her home city, but it suddenly turns back to a plain white image. It's incredibly unnerving! The scenes in the white void are excellently shot - what a small budget and a minimalist approach can do! The White Robots are genuinely creepy; the fact that they don't speak really contributes to this. The Doctor encouraging his companions back into the TARDIS, with the robots right behind them is another great nail-biter. As for the TARDIS breaking up! That moment, and the ensuing scenes in the (black) void - apart from Zoe's badly mistimed scream - are truly eerie.
Episode two, the "true" beginning of the story, lacks the tension of the previous instalment, but the sense of mystery remains and continues to build-up. This is where the adventure is at its most surreal. Jamie losing his face, having it replaced by another, is quite a disturbing idea. (The change of actor was necessitated when Frazer Hines fell ill, but perhaps this was a happy accident, for it adds to the strange, fantasy element and feels like it was written that way all along!) The clockwork soldiers are even more frightening than the robots - the noise they make quickly becomes a foreboding one.
The middle episodes meander along, but pleasantly so. All the bizarre happenings and meetings - Gulliver (another excellent performance by the always wonderful Bernard Horsfall - the decision to have him only recite dialogue from Jonathan Swift's novel is very inspired!), the children, the unicorn, the Minotaur, Rapunzel and more clockwork soldiers all serve to keep the audience intrigued and baffled at the same time. The Karkus is a bit silly, but the encounter with the Medusa is an agonisingly tense moment - even though Zoe's desire to look at her is infuriating, you can sympathise with her. This makes for another terrific cliffhanger.
The climax is probably the most disappointing element of the story. As with any adventure, once the "villain" of the piece is unveiled, the mystery disappears. But the showdown, with the Doctor and the Master's "fiction battle", is wonderful. The letdown is in the final moments, when the computer is overloaded after Zoe and Jamie press a few buttons, making for a rather abrupt resolution. But this is a minor fault (and no different to many other Doctor Who climaxes). The only other things I would change would be the high shot of the forest of words, and Zoe's scream.
But aside from this, the story is divine. Excellent performances (Troughton gives one of his best), good direction, wonderful dialogue and great sets. Even the effects work well. The lighting is also exceptional - one great example is the sudden whoosh of white light after the Minotaur disappears in front of the Doctor and Zoe. The tale also benefits from its length - there are some very short episodes that prevent any dragging. The studio bound scenes (i.e. most of them) are very claustrophobic, and there's a sense of helplessness as the time travellers are pitted against an unseen adversary who's always one step ahead of them. The concept of the Land of Fiction is an enjoyable one - I don't care who built the computer, either! It's the sort of story where an element of mystery is welcome. The problems that were involved in the production - Hines's illness, the need to write a first episode - are solved in ingenious ways. As I mentioned before, these incidents actually enhance the story seamlessly.
The Mind Robber is my number one "Thank goodness this one exists, at least!" Troughton story (even more so than The Tomb of the Cybermen or The War Games). It is a magical experience, ever since my first viewing. A Doctor Who adventure to be savoured and cherished. 9.5/10
A Review by Joe Ford 3/3/04
Every season of Doctor Who has a class act in it, one that shines above the rest despite how good the rest are. Troughton Who is a little more fortunate than the rest, in his last season he was graced with three absolute belters, The Invasion, The War Games and this (and people say it was his weakest year! Hah!) and it pains me to tell you that The Mind Robber just edges those two out for the top spot (by the merest smidgeon).
It is an acknowledged classic, you see it turning up in top ten polls all the time and I have yet to see anybody have the audacity to pan it (now there's an invitation if I ever I heard one...). Following on from the awkward and dreadfully slow The Dominators just what is it about this story that tickles everybody's toes...
Personally I blame the sound FX. Huh? The sound FX! Aren't they fab in this story? Just listen to the creaky, electronic hum the White Robots make... they might already by fairly menacing in appearance but with this nerve tickling noise tacked on they make an instant impression. And how about those Toy Soldiers? Brr... that harsh, gear grinding noise every time they get close... I watched it this morning with all the lights off and was scared witless. Even more subtle sound FX, the alien hum that penetrates the TARDIS, the creaking door as Zoe peers inside, the Master Brain as it grips the Masters mind and gives him instructions... some times a Doctor Who budget cannot convincingly wring all of the atmosphere out of the script and the sound FX and music have to give it a push, the sound design for this story is nothing short of amazing and injects a lot of tension and fantasy into the finished production.
Even better the story seems to have been supplied with a limitless budget because although the story demands a lot from the production team they manage to magic up a startling number of convincing sets, costumes and genuinely impressive FX. How can anybody forget the TARDIS snapping open in space? Or the console flying through the vortex with Jamie and Zoe clinging to edge? The sets too are extraordinarily detailed; I adore the maze set with all the flickering candles and cobwebs but they also manage to pull off an exterior fairytale castle with terrific scope. And all the fairytale characters look authentic, the BBC always excel at costume drama and creating the likes of Gulliver, Sir Lancelot, Blackbeard is a piece of cake.
Or maybe it's just the way director David Maloney puts it all together, his polished direction is the icing on the cake as far as I'm concerned. An A-list director with the likes of Camfield, Harper and Martinus, he refuses to let the story sink into whimsy and continually gives it a delicious edge, despite the absurdities the story throws at us we are convinced there is real danger. There are too many scenes to list that make me glow with affection, the aforementioned TARDIS explosion, the shot of Medusa in the mirror, Jamie scaling the walls of the castle, the close up on the White Robots' eyes as they destroy everything in the final episode... it is a visual treat, never failing to satisfy. And may I just mention that regularly mocked Minotaur scene is outstandingly directed, in the hands of a less talented man this could have been farcical but with only the briefest of glimpse at the costume (because it's the ONE costume that is rubbish), scary growls and close ups of the Doctor and Zoe backed into a corner filled with skulls as a shadow grows over them... it is supremely dramatic in the strangest of ways.
It would be a little unfair to Peter Ling to suggest that the hastily written first episode is the best of the bunch because his four episodes in the world of fiction are full of magic and spellbinding action. But that initial episode is a joy to be sure, one of the most atmospheric openers ever (and given episode one of any story is pretty wonderful) and a tense exercise in working with very little. It's the old Who adage, the imagination soars because the budget lacks, the imagery conjured up is some of the scariest in the show's history (Jamie and Zoe zombified and treated with positive/negative effects, the TARDIS swamped by molten lava, the ship exploding...) and easily the most surreal.
But all the clever stuff starts in episode two and the writing is clearly the work of an extremely imaginative mind. Tricks such as the face-changing game to escape the horror of Frazer Hines going ill. The forest they are hiding in constructed off words which form sayings. Zoe trapped in jam jar! The picture writing. The unicorn... and that's just in one episode! Things get more and more insane as we meet all number of characters from fiction (Medusa coming alive is a supremely scary moment), lots of lovely tricks crop up ("It doesn't exist!") and the story refuses to compromise its fantasy nature, climaxing in a classic era moment when the Doctor and the Master conjour up all manner of fiction characters to fight each other and rescue/kill Jamie and Zoe. It is one of the least predictable stories I have watched, once you accept that ANYTHING can happen you just sit back and let it wash over you.
Of course this review has been stalling this moment, the secret weapon behind The Mind Robber and why it is so damn watchable (and why it could never be repeated again despite many 'oddball' attempts): the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe. What a trio, so relentlessly entertaining the five episodes are like a breath of fresh air. They are like three hyperactive children, wrapped up in each other's company and living the thrill of their adventures together to the full. I can't think of any other regulars I would love travel with more.
Whereas The Enemy of the World contained Troughton's best and most versatile performance, The Mind Robber is his best 'Doctor' performance by a million miles. Maybe it is just because we can watch this story in full but you get a real chance to see how much he gave to the show. He is breathlessly active throughout, every line a comedic gem, every movement impossible to drag your eyes away from to see just what he will do next. Troughton never stops entertaining, you can see why he was so tired after each story what with his puffing and shouting and laughing and pouting.
"That noise... that vibration... it's alienâ^Ŕ¦"
"No no no no no no! Not both together one at a time!"
"Would you mind taking that pop gun away it does unsettle me so!?"
"If we step outside the TARDIS we will enter a dimension of which we know nothing. We shall be at the mercy of the forces..."
"I have yet to see a robot that can climb!"
(and most brilliant of all...)
"But all the power had been used on the Soldiers and it was useless! Ooh you'll have to do better than that!"
Jamie and Zoe are such fun and work just as well apart as they do together. This the first real classic Zoe gets and it exploits all of her strengths and failings. She was daft to leave the TARDIS in the void and to leap to her death in the darkened house (and even worse is her monumentally stupid moment where she walks through the castle detector beams) but who could imagine the story without her and the Doctor being all brainy in the tunnels and leaving Jamie out or her hysterical tussle with the Karkus... Wendy Padbury is divine in this, her scream as shrill as they come and she is clearly full of enthusiasm for the story. What a cutie.
Talking of cuties... Jamie! Now I promised myself I would never, ever use this word but somehow it seems embarrassingly apt... phwoar! How gorgeous does he look in that black top? Plus Frazer Hines is playing the role to excellent comedic effect; his face every time the Doctor tells him to shut up so he can discuss something brainy with Zoe is priceless. Despite Hamish Wilson's fabulous attempts to fill his shoes for an episode I was beaming when Frazer returned in part three. His delivery of some of the lines is priceless ("Who's the yahoos!").
Their chemistry is delightful; the fun they are sharing beams from the screen and envelopes the audience. Simon is not very fond of black and white Who but was captured halfway through episode one and watched the whole thing with me declaring his love for Jamie, his affection for the Doctor and clasping his ears every time Zoe let out another ear piercer.
Maybe the story is bit anti-climatic (pressing a few buttons is hardly a spectacular dĂ©nouement) but it is the journey that matters and the truth of the matter is that The Mind Robber entertains for five dazzling episodes, it makes you laugh ("For heavens sake don't do anything rash!"), it clutches your imagination ("You did this before! That's how Jamie's face got changed you got it all wrong!") and frightens you too (the book closing on Jamie and Zoe is the most terrifying things I have ever seen, it still chills me to this day!).
And as an example of what Troughton is capable of, the story is worthy of an Oscar.
Mind-blowing by Daniel Saunders 20/1/04
The Mind Robber is one of the most unsettling Doctor Who stories broadcast. In fact, it is one of the most unsettling pieces of television I have ever seen. I enjoy surrealism, particularly in Doctor Who, but if it is done badly, it can easily become silly. However, Peter Ling and Derrick Sherwin (who wrote the first episode uncredited) manage to make it frightening. In fact, I would argue that this might be one of the most terrifying Doctor Who stories, not in the sense that it features disgusting monsters, high death counts or gore, but in the sense that it takes the very fabric of reality and subverts it. There is no sense of safety, no ability to take precautions, if you literally do not know what will happen next, something that applies here to characters and viewers alike. This results in some memorable scenes, most obviously the explosion of the TARDIS at the first cliff-hanger. However, Ling realises that mere unsettling surrealism by itself can quickly become tiresome and while the plot has a few twists, it gets a bit repetitive in the middle. Fortunately, there is a good deal of humour to keep the audience's attention, ranging from witty wordplay to Zoe giving a superhero a thrashing while the Doctor panics. The script also plays with the programme's narrative conventions for both dramatic and humorous effect, with the Master writing the final cliff-hanger before it happens and the Doctor describing the Karkus' anti-molecular disintegrator ray gun as scientifically impossible, gently mocking the series' technobabble and imaginary science.
All the main characters are well written. The season six team is one of my favourite Doctor-companion combinations. Jamie provides the muscle and, some of the time, common sense, shown here where he tries to point out that they have run out of string in the labyrinth while the others talk about arithmetical progressions. Zoe is full of book learning (and screams surprisingly rarely). Like Romana later, she gets to show that she is not simply ornamental by getting the better of the Doctor in some scenes, pointing out what pieces make up Jamie's face. The Doctor muddles through amusingly and somehow his experience usually helps him to solve the problem in the end, although in this story it is actually Zoe who saves the Doctor, again showing her competence.
The regular cast manage to bring out the comedy, drama and suspense in the right places. For example, watch Troughton's fear and panic in episode one as the situation gets increasingly out of control, making the audience feel the tension. He is just as successful playing the comedy scenes, such as the one with the children. Most of the roles for the guest cast are too small for them to make much of an impression one way or the other, but Emrys Jones as the Master effectively differentiates between the dual personalities of the amiable author and the ruthless, unthinking machine. Bernard Horsfall is also excellent as Gulliver. His dialogue is largely drawn from Gulliver's Travels and it is largely due to Horsfall's performance that this is a success. As the dialogue is taken from the book, not all of his lines make complete sense in the context of the story on screen, but Horsfall's delivery means that this is rarely noticeable.
The rest of the production is of a similarly high standard. 1960s Doctor Who stories were rarely memorably directed. This was not the fault of the directors, some of whom went on to greater success on the show in the 1970s, but the limited resources of the period, in terms of time, technology and money, meant that few artistic flourishes were possible. Nevertheless, David Maloney does an outstanding job here, producing one of the best-directed stories of the decade, and one that can be compared favourably with many later stories. He enhances the eerie script with tricks including sudden extreme close-ups, negative images, odd camera angles and point of view shots. Of particular note is the end of episode one and the extremely high shot used to suggest that the TARDIS console is falling into the distance. These touches increase the feeling of disorientation, especially in the scenes in the void. The sound effects for the story are as memorable as these images. In the series' first decade the sound effects were arguably as important in establishing alien and threatening environments as the special effects and that is certainly the case here.
Nothing is ever perfect and there are a few unsuccessful aspects of the story. The fact that the Minotaur costume is terrible might be excusable in other stories, but here the director draws attention to it by the fact that until the end of the scene it is represented far more effectively by simply showing its shadow. A more serious problem is the resolution, which is far too mundane and cliched for such a strange and original story. It would have been better if the Doctor had tricked the Master into writing the computer itself into the fiction. As an aside, one other point often remarked upon as an error is the inclusion of real people, Cyrano de Bergerac and Blackbeard in the battle of wits. However, of the other three characters seen in this sequence, only the Karkus is purely fictional; Sir Lancelot is mythical and so might have some slight basis in reality, while Dumas based D'Artagnan very loosely on the memoirs of a real person. It is possible that Ling is hinting that all of these people have been turned into fiction in the same way that the Doctor nearly was earlier in the episode. Nevertheless, there are so few flaws that it seems churlish to focus on them. The Mind Robber is an outstandingly original and unnerving story that still impresses, unsettles and entertains more than thirty-five years after its creation.
The Fact of Fiction by Jonathan Middleton 27/4/06
The Mind Robber is one of Patrick Troughton's best stories along with The War Games, The Invasion, Fury from the Deep, The Web of Fear, The Enemy of The World, The Ice Warriors, The Evil of the Daleks, The Macra Terror and The Power of The Daleks. So now on to The Mind Robber. Considering the problems it went through such as having an extra episode added on because that piece of garbage The Dominators was cut down from 5 to 6 because it was too long (it was too long even with 5 episodes); not having any budget for the first episode and having to rely on the regulars and a few robots; Frazer Hines catching chicken pox and having to be replaced by Hamish Wilson; and yet they turned out one of the best episodes ever.
Troughton is superb in this episode; he always put in a good performance even in absolute garbage (The Dominators) and he does it again here showing some wonderful comic timing, fear, astonishment, deep thinking and all in all puts in a fantastic performance. Frazer Hines is brilliant as Jamie and his chemistry with Troughton is wonderful; along with Padbury they pull a good job as the fictional doubles. Hamish Wilson does an excellent job under stressful circumstances and it would have been interesting to have had him as the replacement permanently. Wendy Padbury does a good job too and the fact she looks absolutely sexy in that catsuit and the fact she beats up the Karkus good have been incorporated in later episodes (nice arse).
Emrys Jones is fantastic as the Master (no, not that one). He slips effortlessly from a doddery, lovable uncle to a menacing robotic voice to a sort of menacing voice when we first him in episode 2. Bernard Horsfall is one of my favourite guest actors and is wonderful as Gulliver; one of the best things is most of his lines were written by Swift which is interesting. Christine Pirie puts in a suitable haughty performance as Rupunzel. Christopher Robbie, who put in one of the most embarrassing performances ever in Revenge of The Cybermen, does a good job as the Karkus. Considering he is a spoof of Batman, Robbie does a good job with the role and has a suitable accent. The children do good jobs as the E Nesbit children and surprisingly for 60s television the kids aren't irritating. The White Robots are a wonderful visual design and have a nice sound effect. The clockwork soldiers are wonderfully designed as well with effective sound effects and an effective design.
Peter Ling's script is a melting pot of ideas from a white cyclorama, to the land of fiction and surrealism. Which is wonderful as surrealism is an excellent form of writing. The ideas are good, with Gulliver speaking his lines by Swift; the fact that the Doctor and his companions will turn into fiction is ironic as they are fiction themselves and furthermore the fact that it should have been shown as a group hallucination, which would have explained the Master as based on the (real) Master, the White Robots on the Quarks the Clockwork Soldiers on the Cybermen.
Another reason why this story is good is David Maloney. He was one of the best directors on the program. Particular highlights are the entire first episode, the first shots of the clockwork soldiers, the shots of the Minotaur, the rope falling down, the TARDIS breaking up, the TARDIS reforming, the cliffhanger to parts 2 and 4 and the psychic attack on the Doctor.
The special effects are another thing to praise. Kudos to Jack Kine, who helped to design the robots guns, and to Michael Johnharris, for the stop motion effects on Medusa, which looked superb and deserves an Oscar, as does the TARDIS breaking up apart from the console, Jamie and Zoe.
Evan Hercules's sets are fantastic: the white cyclorama, the forest of words, the labyrinth, the citadel, the jungle, the master brain, the master control room... all the sets show a lot of thought go into them.
However there are some problems. One of them is the climax where Jamie and Zoe press a few buttons and then the master brain wants to invade Earth. Why? I suppose they felt that it was to spice up the end and the fact that at five episodes it's too long. They should have cut 4 and 5 together and done it as a four-part episode.
So, to conclude, a very good episode despite some problems behind the scenes. It's a good episode and is much better than The Dominators so a 7/10.
A Review by Finn Clark 5/12/06
I treasure these oddball stories, but I can't always praise their execution. The Celestial Toymaker gave us one of Doctor Who's most iconic villains, but the surviving episode is dull. The Mind Robber is less celebrated, but for my money it gets everything right.
What's particularly impressive is the fact that so much about it was a happy accident. We're so lucky that The Dominators was overpadded, crawling crap even by Troughton-era standards (which is a terrifying thought). How many times in Doctor Who did a story get an extra episode because the preceding one had been chopped back? Just this once, right? They didn't do it for Planet of Giants, did they? You wouldn't expect sticking on another episode late in the day to do a story any favours (e.g. Battlefield in Ben Aaronovitch's opinion), but part one of The Mind Robber makes such a difference. It raises the stakes. Without that introduction of Jamie and Zoe being sucked out into nothingness it would probably all just feel a bit silly.
Scripted by an uncredited Derrick Sherwin, episode one is scary. The Doctor's fear is particularly effective. It's curious that stories set entirely inside the TARDIS are terrible... in the comics. However on TV they're among the very best, even (or perhaps especially) when they're speed-written filler dashed off by the script editor. I love the TARDIS-bound episodes of Logopolis or Castrovalva, but there's also The Edge of Destruction and the first episode of The Mind Robber. They're the equivalent of those famous Eastenders two-handers, turning lack of budget or time into a virtue by devoting an episode entirely to the regulars and ramping up the claustrophobia. Those white sets. Brrrr. Unfortunately (unlike Warrior's Gate), you can see where the walls meet the floor, but that's a detail. I love the ideas. I love the understated creepiness of the scanner images affecting our heroes' minds. It's paced perfectly, building from subtle beginnings to all-out horror. I love the colour being sucked out of the TARDIS and Jamie and Zoe's clothes, although admittedly the former goes so far as to disappear while the latter don't have the common courtesy to do the same. Count me disappointed.
In a sense, the entire story is riding on the momentum of its first episode. Having already seen this place as an alien void trying to suck the humanity out of our heroes, there's an edge of danger to the subsequent surrealism. This place isn't safe. "I think we may be in a place where nothing is impossible." Similarly the accident of Frazer Hines's absence due to illness is turned into another virtue. Jamie's face-changing could have gone horribly wrong, but Hamish Wilson's first scene is a two-hander with the Doctor and Patrick Troughton completely sells it. It also yields another gem in the scene where they get back the real Jamie, giving Zoe a chance to outsmart the Doctor. It's funny, but also a welcome reminder of her intelligence. She was too often just the generic companion.
There's so much imagination on display, which may sound like a non-sequitur but in these rubber-reality stories it's easy just to coast on a few cheap tricks. I love Gulliver's dialogue, for instance. More people should talk like that. Bernard Horsfall also does impressively in the part, making those tongue-twisting lines sound lovely and even suggesting an authentic Gulliver accent.
Production limitations become a factor. The toy soldiers don't have to look realistic. They're toy soldiers! Nevertheless I was impressed by the unicorn, for which they got a real horse! There's stop-motion animation on the Medusa. In addition there's even a gang of children, which is strangely uncommon in classic Doctor Who. They're everywhere in the Cartmel and Russell T. Davies eras, but working with minors on the production schedule of the early days must have been an absolute nightmare. Nevertheless this story went for it and quite right too. They're appropriate and fitting.
Rapunzel is cute too.
Things get more serious towards the end. I enjoyed seeing the White Robots again, although I disliked the alien invasion bit of the baddies' plan. It's boring and mundane. The story would have been better without it. Nevertheless I'm impressed by how this story gives significance to what's theoretically just fantasy land nonsense. Normally I hate rubber-reality stories. If nothing seems to matter, I lose interest. However here we have our memories of episode one to sustain us, then eventually Jamie and Zoe get shut inside a book while the Doctor locks wits with the Master of the Land of Fiction. The Time Witch-esque mental duels are a comic strip staple, but it's still fun to see it on TV. It's well done too.
"Don't worry about fiction, concentrate on real life," says the Doctor. As a random aside, it's a coincidence that both this and The Celestial Toymaker have clunky iconic robots. It's like Doctor Who's Alice in Wonderland, but with better protagonists. Only when writing this review did I realise that this story is full of things I normally hate, such as "it was all a dream" endings. (What redeems this one is the fact that that's merely a possible interpretation and one can also take everything literally. Incidentally the last episode ends so abruptly as to be almost a cliffhanger; is it a coincidence that the very next story, The Invasion, is the one where the TARDIS is invisible when it lands? The Doctor will blame a damaged visual stabiliser circuit, but one could also see it as a side-effect of the TARDIS reaccustoming to reality.)
Oh, and note that for those who doubted him, Jamie can definitely read. He identifies the tree-letters in the forest and then later reads from the ticker-tape machine.
I love this story. If nothing else, its mere presence elevates the entire Troughton era. Without The Mind Robber, the "interesting and different" story in Season Six would be The Space Pirates! It inspired a fantastic Virgin NA (Conundrum) and also another that's distinctly less so, but I don't hold that against it. It's one of my very favourite stories and I wouldn't change a thing about it, although I do wonder how it would have played in Season Five with Victoria instead of Zoe. Miss Waterfield always had an air of Alice in Wonderland anyway, with her outfit, blonde hair and background. That juxtaposition could have been fun. Nevertheless this is probably the Troughton story I treasure the most, more so even than The War Games (which I worship) or Whitaker's Dalek stories (which are jewels of the entire series). Only six Troughton-era stories have survived intact. I can't believe our luck that this is one of them.
"We're nowhere. It's as simple as that." by Ben Kirkham 7/8/07
The Mind Robber is one of 1960's Doctor Who's supreme triumphs.
The origin of the story is well known by now, and it is another outstanding example of why the classic series worked so well with a shoestring budget. In the best traditions of the series, it uses its limited facilities to create something boundless.
The first episode is dazzling and terrifying. The crew's disquiet about where they are and what they are about to encounter really shines through to the viewer. Patrick Troughton, in particular, shows the severe gravity of the situation. The Doctor is twitchy and scared, whilst Jamie and Zoe are delightfully naive. The lack of incidental music really helps the unease, as does the white void and the mysterious voices. As the Doctor puts it, "it's only the unknown that worries me" and we completely believe him. Zoe's bloodcurdling scream as we see the two companions dressed in white, beckoning the Doctor outside, is creepy and unnerving. And the cliffhanger, which builds slowly and then speeds up as the tension is ratcheted up, is brilliant. I can imagine children staying behind the sofa after the transmission of the first episode in 1968.
That this entire first episode was a late addition is a revelation, as it actually works better than the following four. That said, the other episodes are still exceptional, creating worlds and characters with such an ease, it's easy to feel as though you're watching the works of Lewis Carroll. The atmosphere is whimsical with a slight touch of menace, and these episodes touch on fantasy more strongly than the horror present in the first episode. The temporary substitution of Frazer Hines with Hamish Wilson works particularly well, another example of how imaginative and peerless the series could be when faced with difficult obstacles. Wilson gets Jamie's mannerisms and attitude perfectly pitched.
Once in the Land of Fiction, the mystery is slowly unravelled through a series of excellent set pieces. All of the TARDIS crew are excellent in this story. Jamie is loyal and lovable, ready to defend his companions to the death. Zoe is headstrong and forward thinking, and her frustration as she tries to make sense of a bizarre situation is entertaining to watch. The Doctor is defiant yet patient, willing to sit it out until the enemy shows himself, but also extremely irritated at the childish games he's being forced to play. It's a masterful piece of acting from Troughton, who is at the top of his game as the Doctor.
A remarkable feature of The Mind Robber is how it is able to create fictional characters in the context of the story and make them so entertaining. Bernard Horsfall as Gulliver is first rate, with a genuine presence that befits the original character. He is at once likable whilst also quite disposable, as none of his actions can influence the events around him. The way that Peter Ling works Gulliver's dialogue into the story is extremely clever. The strange and sudden appearance of characters to help with the Doctor's quest is a witty idea to thrust the story forward, particularly the appearance of the puzzles: "Jamie is safe and well", sheer brilliance.
Rapunzel is also absolutely delightful, and the moment when Jamie climbs through her window only for her to vanish is at once quite amusing whilst also disquietingly scary. "The Master" writing the Doctor and Zoe's future actions is inspired, and the game steps up a gear when the Doctor exercises his free will. The Karkus, similarly, is really supposed to be a joke that for all the brilliant fictional characters that exist, some terrible ones do as well. One of the most wonderful surprises is that the villain is really, for all intents and purposes, a captured Frank Richards! It's a terrific blurring of fact and fiction. To end episode four with the terrifying notion of Jamie and Zoe being crushed in a book is admirable, particularly if one takes into account the literal and theoretical interpretations.
It's been said before that the realisation of the Land of Fiction doesn't work too well. For the most part, I disagree. The world is so wonderfully diverse in setting and styles, usually making something simplistic look sublime. The only thing that doesn't quite work is the Forest of Words, which doesn't quite match up with the overview shot. The clockwork robots are at once fairly iconic and also extremely effective. Everything from cobwebs, to doors, to caves, to redcoats, to forests and castles are all very good.
The finale has also been criticised for its abruptness, which in reality works in keeping with the events preceding it by having little explanation. I must mention the theory that this entire story was a dream of Jamie's. Judging by the beginning of The Invasion, this seems very possible, but not definite.
The Mind Robber is sheer magnificence from a time when Doctor Who was struggling to make an episode a week. That it succeeds so well is a remarkable achievement.
A Review by Harry O'Driscoll 7/7/09
The Mind Robber is a very interesting story and a type only attempted once before with The Celestial Toymaker. The idea of travelling to a different dimension is something that sadly has hardly ever been done and has an awful lot of scope.
It is clear almost from the start that this is something different. Even the Doctor seems out of his depth, they are "nowhere" and it is something that they are totally unused to. The idea of an entity existing outside of reality is an instantly intriguing idea; the white robots are immediately malevolent and bring back the old sense of stepping into the unknown used in earlier episodes. The final scene of the TARDIS breaking up is a masterpiece and as Zoe's screams fade away into the darkness, the viewer is immediately hooked to watch the next episode.
When they finally arrive in the Land of Fiction, it is all too clear they are somewhere totally different. The toy soldiers temporarily replace the white robots and show both the sense of fear and the slightly childlike sense of the Land of Fiction. The Master watching the TARDIS crew gives us a sense of his power. We instantly know he is the boss: in this new world, he is god. The conflicting voice of the old man and the computer gives a sense of mystery and provokes the viewer's interest. The incident with Jamie's face add a good sense of comedy as well as covering for Frazer Hines's illness. The addition of Gulliver again adds to the mystery, but there is a sense of reassurance that the Doctor and his companions have someone on their side.
As the story progresses, it gets darker and darker. The scenes in the maze are a wonderful dark setting for the Minotaur and Medusa. The addition of so many fictional characters gives us a connection with Earth so it suggests that the world may not be so far off after all. As Jamie finds the Master's domain, it gives another jolt of fear to see the cold, clinical, mysterious place. One of the biggest surprises yet is when we find the Master as an old man who wrote a boys' comic on earth. The fact that he needs the Doctor to take his place shows he is, in a sense, in the same position as them desperate to escape. The final battle of wits between the Doctor and the Master is a great scene, showing a battle of imagination and the use of fictional characters was very entertaining.
The acting in the serial is exemplary. Patrick Troughton in particular deserves merit for portraying the three sides to the second Doctor: the bumbling fool, the cold warrior and the righteous hero. The production is flawless and the whole episode has so much atmosphere and mystery that it is up there with some of Patrick Troughton's best.